Blind political allegiance is about the worst affliction that can affect any society. When that society is a middling, third-world nation, then the failure to put country before a political party can be even more crippling. And those usually struggling on the crutches are the middle and especially the lower class.
Over the years there has been insufficient noise by John Public on the role being played by high-priced politically appointed consultants in Barbados. The ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the decimated Democratic Labour Party (DLP) have both been guilty of this patronage. Under the former Owen Arthur administration, there were consultants – some of varying degrees of relevance – literally falling out of trees. It was a time of economic plenty with consultants receiving salaries between $5 000 to $10 000 monthly for duties often barely carrying plausible measure.
Under the brief David Thompson administration and then that of Freundel Stuart the trend continued with consultants/advisors to be found in the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism, and others. The irony of the situation is that when the BLP formed the government and delivered consultancy positions to their operatives there was the expected outcry from the DLP and that party’s sympathisers. It was not unusual to find documentation related to the quiet appointments and salaries paid to these persons falling off trucks in front of various media houses.
Likewise, when the DLP found itself in power, the opposition BLP was full of sound and fury as it rebuked the employment of such political operatives. Again, BLP loyalists, previously silent on the issue, suddenly joined the chorus of criticism. It is a form of obnoxious partisan politics on which politicians thrive. They know their public and appreciate that a portion of the Barbadian population will close its eyes, ears and brains to excesses and pecuniary patronage depending on which party is in power and who are slavish “Bees” or “Dees”.
Under the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (Remuneration and Allowances) Order 2016, and with almost everyone in the House of Assembly currently being a minister, salaries inclusive of various allowances range between approximately $23 000 monthly at the top and $17 000 along the feeding chain. So be it. We have no quarrel with our elected officials being paid. Remuneration was no secret before they were elected and there ought to be no bone of contention after they are elected.
However, there must be some degree of concern with respect to consultants/advisors in an environment where austerity is bludgeoning the majority of the population and leading to job losses among those least able to sustain their daily existence. And this concern has nothing to do just with politics but relates merely to simple logic attached to the idea of a consultant or advisor.
While the Mia Mottley administration is trimming fat down to skeleton proportions among lower and middle-income earners, it is proposed that BDS$21 million will be paid to consultants by the end of 2020. And here is where logic ought to kick in. If there is a national problem, for example, an economic crisis, and Government hires a consultant/advisor to assist on the issue, it is to be expected that the individual or individuals will present a programme or their ideas. When that programme is implemented it is monitored to see its effectiveness. If that programme works or appears to be working, then the consultant/advisor has done his or her job, should be paid for those services and that professional relationship ended. Government during the consultation process ought to ensure that technocrats in the civil service work along with the consultants to see whatever economic strategies they came up with to deal with the problem.
But this does not happen in the Barbados scenario. It appears that we have a political creation called “consultant in perpetuity” that actually translates into “consultant until government changes”. This is palpably nonsensical if the problem that necessitated the consultant in the first place has been solved or appears to be heading in that direction. The experience in this small economy is that government consultants/advisors become quasi-civil servants by their continuous loitering outside the state’s treasury. In our case, some consultants are even loitering in Great Britain at great cost to Barbadian taxpayers.
This state of affairs continues from BLP to DLP administrations ad nauseam. We currently have myriad economic consultants – in a small economy – positioned to tap into millions of taxpayers’ money monthly in a situation where – according to Government – the austerity measures are working. If we accept that economics is not an exact science, why then, in the words of celebrated economist John Kenneth Galbraith are we paying millions towards a delusion that an economy can ever be “a stable, immutable structure”?
Will Barbados’ middle and lower classes who are those usually caught on the wrong end of the effort to restructure and redefine the economy ever seek greater accountability or insist to their government that the majority need not always be wrong? Hardly! Blinkered political partisanship and divisiveness among the masses always ensure that affluent politicians, consultants and advisors make austerity and hardship appear quite palatable and tolerable.